UNO Synth Day 2

The real magic from the UNO Synth will come not from being a standalone synthesizer but rather an instrument in an orchestra. After playing around with modifying the preset sounds and playing the demo patterns at lunchtime today, I figured out how to use the sequencer without the aid of the manual, and the video tutorial is very good. I have watched the tutorial on the sequencer, and the possibilities are exciting.

Since I have the connectors to do it, I hooked up my Teenage Engineering Rhythm and tried to get it to sync. I was so far successful only in manually syncing a pattern on the Rhythm and the UNO, only out of sheer luck, and on the first try. After watching a video on syncing a PO-12 with a Korg Volca, it didn't make obvious how to do the same with the UNO, and any videos on how to sync an the UNO with a Pocket Operator have so far not yet been made.

So far it's fun to sit on the couch and listen in using my headphones and rely on batteries for power, meaning I can work with it untethered from an electrical outlet. Conceivably I could use it on my commute, if my transit commute were long enough. With 17 minutes on a streetcar being my typical travel time, I'll barely get it out of my bag before I arrive at my stop.

New Arrival: The UNO Synth

Toronto held a synthesizer expo in August of this year, and it coincided with a pager duty shift. That meant I was able to visit, but I couldn't hang around it long. The purpose of my attendance was to gather information, and to see if Teenage Engineering would have a booth. They did not. I talked to the Roland folks, and mentioned that I was new to synths, and told them I was looking at the Pocket Operator series. The salesman would hip me to the Korg Monotron Duo as another fun way to experience a small, cheap synth, and after watching some YouTube, long story short, a unit is in the mail. (From Japan for some reason.) At the synth expo, would be intimidated by the modular rack you see below:

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Right across the aisle, I met my first, true love of synthesizers, the IK Multimedia UNO Synth:

(None of the people in that photograph are me, and it was taken by the IK Multimedia rep.)

I tried a few notes and twibbled a few knobs, and when picking it up, I was stunned how light it was. It felt like it barely existed. It was for sale at the expo and Moog Audio (a synthesizer and guitar effects pedals shop with stores in Toronto and Montréal), and they were selling it for a promotional price of $200 Canadian. Since I had only heard about it then, and hadn't even gotten started with synths (that would happen a month later), I couldn't pull the trigger. The promotional price lasted, as advertised, that weekend, and after I had decided to plunk down the money, the price went up to its manufacturer suggested price of $250.

Another month of visiting Moog Audio and watching YouTube videos would go by, the price remaining the same. A week ago, the idea of finding it on Craigslist or eBay occurred to me, and I did find a few units on the auction site. One unit had a starting price of $100 USD, which made me wonder how that unit was acquired. I decided it was none of my business, and set a mental bid limit of $200 Canadian, and just kept bidding until I reached that price. Thanksgiving Monday was the last day of bidding and, a little bit hungover from drinking a few beers the night before, I had somehow woken up at 7:00 AM, looked at my phone, and noticed I had been outbid, but was still under my self-imposed limit. I would sleepily miscalculate what I needed to bid to stay under $200 (it would work out to about $218), but I figured that would be OK, since Ontario taxes is 13%, and $218 would be under the $226 full price of the promotional price. I expected to be outbid, since that was still cheaper than retail price, but due to some miracle, someone didn't want it more than I did.

Not thinking I would be in town when it eventually was delivered, I had it go directly to the post office with FlexDelivery, a service Canada Post offers to have packages sent directly to the post office with a unique address where they email you when something arrives. I got the notification today, 2 days after the message from eBay indicating it was shipped, and not realizing what it was for, I matched up the tracking info start date with the shipping date. And here it is:

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New Arrival

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The getting started tutorial doesn't linger on any of the features, so tonight I have watched it with lots of pausing and rewinding. I like that style a lot, actually. There's no wasted time, and I can still go through it at my own pace. I've already downloaded the controller software, and the only disappointment so far is that I can't update the firmware. I had heard from the IK Multimedia rep at the synth expo that turning it off resets the unit, so after I recalled that, taking out the battery took it out of bootloader mode. So far I love everything about it, from how it looks to how it feels to how it's controlled. I can't wait to make interesting noise with it!

How I Use OmniFocus Notes

I use OmniFocus to keep track of what needs to be done on an individual level. All sorts of projects, from buying and framing art to starting hobbies to making notes about things to look up later get jotted down in OF. If I was ever lacking in things to do, that is no longer the case, with almost 900 open actions in 117 projects. (Not included: routine tasks that a checklist is a better fit for.) OF does not track tasks that work expects me to do, since in that case I'm accountable to others, and priority set not necessarily by me. In tickets, I always try to log what I did at the time of doing it, so that others can piece together later what happened.

So I do the same in OF notes for a task. If it's a repeating task, I write down if anything had changed since the last time and whether there were roadblocks I came across so that when I do it the next time, I can avoid them. For tasks waiting on something to happen (a delivery, for example), I make a note of the updates that come my way. Every entry in the notes gets a date associated with it, just in case I need to look up when I did something that has to do with that task.

I try not to put notes from a call or meeting in OF, since they end up being harder to find. I settled (finally) on the iOS/Mac Notes app, which syncs across all the devices I use at the moment. Whenever possible, I add a link in the OF note to something that's referenceable by URL. A Day One journal entry would be a good example, or a web page that came in handy when looking into something.

I wish there was Markdown in OF notes, but there is quite a bit possible with formatting without it, so it would only solve the problem of making bullet lists easier. (I have a text expansion shortcut for the bullet • for when typing a bullet list out on a Mac.) Sometimes OF notes become blog posts, like a forthcoming one on a synthesizer purchase, on its way from who-knows-where, the outcome of which I'm still not sure of. Usually, though, it's a way for me to track what I did and when over the lifetime of a task, and to be able to bring up a timeline if need be.

Ward 10 (Spadina-Fort York) All-Candidates' Meeting

Spadina-Fort York is a federal riding, a provincial riding, and a Toronto ward, and the boundaries are identical. Being from British Columbia, and having spent most of my adulthood in Vancouver (which does not have a ward system), the riding boundaries do not match at all. The recent changes to the wards in Toronto (from 44 to a proposed 47 to an eventual 25) set the wards to match the provincial (and therefore federal) ridings. So we will have a situation where Toronto has a councillor, MPP (member of provincial parliament) and MP (federal member of parliament) represent the exact same people but with different responsibilities.

I live in the Garment District of Toronto, which is a postage stamp neighbourhood comprising the area bounded by Spadina to Bathurst and Queen to King. I tell people I live at Queen and Spadina, though King and Spadina would be just as accurate. (Queen St. seems more famous than King St. to me.) I've been a member of the Garment District Neighbourhood Association as soon as I heard about it in 2016, and have gained their trust such that help run their Twitter and Instagram accounts and, to a lesser extent, their Facebook account. I have no plans on running for a board position, but I do like staying involved with them, helping make the neighbourhood as good as it can be.

Tonight, along with 7 other neighbourhood associations, the GDNA presented and all-candidates meeting featuring men and women running for council.

The MPP Chris Glover addressed the crowd (he noted he was allotted 45 seconds and stayed within that time).

The candidates, seated randomly, would answer questions in that order, always starting with a the candidate next on the list for each question (so that people only went first once at most). Each got two minutes to speak. Everybody more or less stuck to time. I took notes on my iPhone, and there was no break for me for my fingers to regain their composure. (It would later emerge that the meeting was recorded.) The themes were housing affordability, community safety, population growth in the ward/riding, waterfront protection and revitalization (the riding includes the waterfront along Queens Quay, not to mention Toronto Islands and the Billy Bishop airport), and infrastructure (especially as it relates to flood protection). I barely heard mention of the King St. transit pilot, and not a peep from it from the candidate most opposed to it. To say I'm a supporter of the King St. transit pilot would be an understatement. Three or four candidates stood out for me as potentially getting my vote: the incumbent Joe Cressy, litigation lawyer April Engelberg, former banker and current officer in Her Majesty's Royal Canadian Navy Kevin Vuong (the only candidate on my list not to use Nation Builder for his website), and businessman Rick Myers.

Due to the uncertainty around the which ward system the election would run under, and due to my not being in town on election day, I've had to rush somewhat to judgment on who I will end up voting for. Of the four above, I have little doubt they will remain involved in their communities and in politics, whether or not they call themselves a politician. Advance voting starts tomorrow, so I have about 48 hours to come down on a decision. I was heartened by what I saw at the all-candidates' meeting. Some clearly were not put on this earth to serve in public office, and some had the earnest belief that they can make a difference in their communities that I admire, so I hope that the latter will continue with that attitude afterwards and stay politically even though their candidacy for council is a long shot.

I Own a SodaStream

For years (really, years and years), I was and still am a loyal Coca-Cola drinker. At every job, it would take about a week for colleagues to realize just how often I drank it. There haven't been many days that have gone by where I haven't had a Coke, which I alternate between thinking of as a mark of shame and shrugging off as an aspect of my personality. I'm not saying I can tell the difference in a blind taste test, but Pepsi cola lacks the zing that Coca-Cola has. I've come to believe that it depends on the location of the bottling plant, and for some reason, Vancouver has the best Coke I've tried.

As a Coke drinker, I always order that at restaurants, and more than half the time, the server says they don't serve Coke, and they inevitably follow that up with "Is Pepsi OK?" One day, someone will say "No, it's not OK" and make a big stink about it. I never will. It's why this reaction to the sale of SodaStream to Pepsi is so funny:

I do not have an obvious place in my apartment to put it, so it sometimes sits on the coffee table or dinner table. One day my little flat in downtown Toronto is going to burst with the amount of stuff that's crammed into it.

After deciding not to buy the syrups, mainly because I care more about the fizz than the taste of soda, buying a SodaStream should dramatically cut down on the amount of my sugar intake. Other SodaStream owners I've talked to play up how much money they're saving, though it's rare to hear them say they've bought the syrup. I'm under no illusions that it will save me much money, or, more importantly, that I'll notice either way.

I can tell you what day it was that I finally surrendered and bought one: It was the day Pepsi bought the company, August 20th, 2018. I considered buying it online, though for a reason I can't remember, I wanted to buy it from a store. The website I could find it at The Bay. North America's oldest company, it's a department store with a location near my office. I would find SodaStream units in the lower level of the Eaton Centre location, and while I hummed and hawed about the price (it was $10 more than an online price), the salesman said he could honour the "special" they had recently. I bought it that day mostly to be able to say I bought it the day Pepsi purchased the company, in the belief that they're going to screw it up somehow.

And I left it in its packaging for a month. I did eventually take it out of the box, and that first day, it sprayed all over my counter. The next bottles came out better as I got the hang of it. I did go almost a full day without a Coke, and since the whole had felt a bit off, despite drinking coffee for caffeine and SodaStream water for the fizziness. So I won't totally cut Coke out of my diet, but I do see myself cutting out a large chunk of it.

My Sunday Routine

Back when I thought I wanted to be a sysadmin, I read Time Management for System Administrators by Thomas A. Limoncelli. The sections that appealed to me the most were about routines. The routine of his that I always remember is that he gasses up his car on Sundays. Despite being a believer in the cashless society, the thing I always do now on Sundays is get cash. That way I don't have to think about it for another week.

My Sunday routine is a list of tasks, all requiring a low amount of brain power, all which can be done in a single evening. I use the recurring checklist app to remind me what to do for my Sunday routine. I got the idea of having a written-out routine after reading the article Atul Gawande wrote about checklists. (He would turn that article into a book, which I would also read.) On my "Sunday Routine" checklist are things like "take out the recycling and the trash"; "water the plant"; "download and queue up podcasts"; "charge all the things"; "fill the kettle and make some fizzy water with the SodaStream"; and other mundane but necessary things that I'd rather not do on workdays.

My hope my Sunday routine would be to offload some mental energy to a written list. I would say that has happened, but I can't say for sure that it has added to the amount of energy I have for the rest of the week. At least everything that need to get done gets done. I've added other checklists to my life, including a "Leaving Home Checklist" (so I don't forget my resuseable coffee cup and turn off the lights) and a Start Work Checklist (for all of the system I have to log into before starting my pager duty shifts in the mornings). That has led to less forgetting to do the important but brainless things I have to do every day so I don't think of it a block away from my apartment or the easy things are out of the way when getting to work.


Whenever my mom visits, I like to have flowers in the apartment. Just my luck that the Toronto Flower Market takes place a few blocks away. Now, every time I'm able, I get a $10 vase (in a jar) of flowers to brighten up my tiny little condo.

Here were my choices, all of which looked great. I decided to go with the one I picked up first, on the strength of the first impression it made on me.

I have 6 wine glasses, but they don't all fit in my cupboard. Somewhere along the line, flowers from a previous bunch dried out, but I kept the one with the grey petals. It took up residence in one of the wine glasses on my table, and it looks like it belongs there.

Today's market was the last of the year, and they pick up again in May, I assume.

Three Years at Acquia

Today marks my third anniversary of working at Acquia. This job has been more stressful than I imagined it but also with more laughs, learning and love than I imagined. Today was a good example, where an issue affected multiple customers and I ended up being the communications lead for the problem, but through teamwork and empathy we each played our part and kept things as light as possible while we figured out what was wrong.

I’m not saying I don’t love sleep, but every day I’ve looked forward to getting to the office and on the video hangout to work with my colleagues. There has never been a day where I wanted to get the hell out of there, and compared to previous jobs in my career, I never went home so exhausted that I couldn't do anything else.

The week leading up today has led to reflection around what it means to do essentially the same thing at the same spot in the organization chart for 3 years, and the challenges associated with working in a different city than my colleagues. A situation with the product developed by the team in Toronto led to a senior engineer realizing the value of having me in the same room, though, and while it took 2 days to pound on what was ailing the system, I was happy about the response to me as a customer support representative, that is, someone with a technical ability and confidence with technology with an understanding of the processes. The only regret of those past two days is I didn't get to show how the Support organization works as a team, but I am happy to have been able to showcase the access level and responsibility we're trusted with, and our orientation and reputation towards being as helpful as possible.

This week's work anniversary has also rejuvenated thoughts around levelling up. Chelsey Troy’s Levelling Up series tackles the subject of programming. In reading it, I was inspired to think more broadly about levelling up as a person. Getting in the swing of cooking for myself, joining an executive, seriously investing in hobbies, involving myself with the neighbourhood association, all those are all things I started after moving to Toronto. I think of taking care of my physical health, taking all opportunities to socialize (even if they have tended to be mostly over video, and taking advantage of the general situation of living in Canada's biggest and therefore best city, but I also think of what skills are going to be of most use in my 40s and what I don't have to do anymore.

It’s Relatively Cheap to Get Started With Making New Sounds

I’m not really sure what I was doing at Drone:Klub:21 beyond listening to synthesized music coming at me from all directions. It was pretty cool seeing men (let’s face it) agree on a key and a tempo and make new sounds from electrons, but I’m one of three “audience members” in four chairs provided. There were three times as many performers as listeners.

I keep wondering if I should bother goofing around with synthesizers. A co-worker asked if I was a musician, and it’s always tough to answer No to a question that is much more exciting when the answer is Yes. At least it’s relatively cheap to get started with making new sounds. I got interested in the idea of synthesizers when I saw the jaw-droppingly beautiful Teenage Engineering OP-1. And jaw-droppingly expensive (though it’s obvious to me why). There’s a lot of feelings I have around music, my father being a musician, and my parents’ respectable attempts to get us to play the guitar and keyboard. Synthesizers, especially the ones that look nothing much like a piano, appeal to the computer enthusiast in me, but the learning curve is a bit daunting.

3 Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator synthesizers

“Start small” has been a mantra lately, and that applies here too. I now own 3 Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators, a MIDI keyboard, and some starter software on an old MacBook Air. Maybe when January rolls around, I’ll have something to contribute to the #jamuary hashtag on Instagram.

Another Year as Director at Large for the Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto

At an event last year put on by the Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto, the president approached me to ask if I’d join the board of directors. It didn't take long for me to decide, though I did take a few days to mull it over. I had attended all the events (the travel show, where a traveler to Iceland presents about their trip; Thorablott, the yearly "winter" feast; and the Christmas brunch and farm visit where Santa made an appearance and told us about the Yule Lads), and I had taken the Icelandic lessons that the club offers.

In the first year as a director at large, I have been responsible mainly for my perspective and have volunteered to help out in material ways more so than I would if I weren't. I also maintain the Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto Twitter account and do some of the communication through their Facebook page and try to keep the events page up to date. At today's annual general meeting, I have happily agreed to serve another year on the board, and hope to ameliorate the technology we use for internal communications (especially during board meetings). I have been the sole maintainer of the Instagram account, something I hope to broaden in the next year. I have some other ideas about where my responsibilities might broaden as well, and I'm excited about what might be possible in the coming months.

A colleague of mine at my day job is on the board of her local rowing club, and she and I were talking about a mutual colleague who had wondered if he should put his board membership on his resume. The answer from both of us was an emphatic yes. (I wish I had said he should target his experience towards whatever job he might want, but the situation didn't call for nuance.) Being a board member of a small club, with decisions that need making and events that need planning and communication that has to happen, has been a small thrill, and has made me feel part of something more so than just a regular membership would have. If you can stand a little conflict (present in all human relations) and like the idea of really being part of something, I would definitely recommend finding a role on a decision-making body. My role on the ICCT board has been something I've definitely been proud of the last year or so.


I just concluded a FaceTime chat with Roland, and it was good to talk to him again. He and I would have weekly lunches or coffee, often impromptu (very much counter to my “plan everything” orientation), and always worthwhile. Since moving to Toronto, it hasn’t exactly been hard keeping up with my Vancouver friends, but it hasn’t exactly been easy, either.

I work for the Boston-based Acquia, and almost all of my colleagues work out of that office. I spend about half of my day in Google Hangouts, and, much to my surprise, I don't hate it. It nice to "overhear" what they're working on, to have some watercooler talk, and to work on things live from time to time. In my previous job that customer meetings would be the only time I'd interact live with my co-workers while working remotely. That company did a good job of communicating with me, so I wonder how things are different now that the bandwidth to do video calls is better.

One set of friends and I have a bi-weekly calendar entry to get on video chat and talk about whatever. That helps reduce the social isolation I've felt in, yes, a city of 2.8 million people. (Joining the board of a volunteer organization has helped tremendously with that, too.) It was a magical coincidence that these friends of mine got along so well on our first day of university and that we've continued to keep in touch. The friend who organizes it insists on the video being turned on, and I'm grateful that he reminds me that a lot of the communication we have comes through seeing how each other is feeling. It has not escaped my attention that people are more and more chatting via video while walking on the street. With faster mobile Internet and ever-better handheld devices, I see this becoming more of a thing.

The 3-hour difference means I stay up late on whatever weeknight it's scheduled for. They have kids and I don't, so this was an accommodation to their schedule that I'm happy with.

What Went Well/What Didn't Go Well

In Travel Reminders for our Future Selves, Peter Rukavina writes:

At the tail end of our trip to Europe at the end of August, on the flight home, Oliver and I talked about the value of creating a list of what went well (so we can remember to do it again) and what didn’t (so we can avoid or work around it). We weren’t talking about macro issues, like “go back to Amsterdam again!” (which is a good idea in its own right), but rather things like “remember that you need to have €20 of balance on your Dutch transit chip card to be able to take the train.”

The idea mirrors the practice of we programmers to add comments to our code as a guide to others (and to our future selves): here be dragons, watch out for this pothole, this might seem like it won’t work, but it does. And so on.

Before each significant thing I do, like a trip, a date, or a running race, I try to write down expectations and fears of what's about to happen. Afterwards, I check to see if those expectations and/or fears were met, and I write down what went well and what didn't go so well. An example: During my last day trip to Stratford-on-the-Lake, I had a couple of hours to kill before the performance I was going to see. I thought it would be a good idea to pack a lunch, and it so happened that I had leftover breakfast from the diner the day before. I wish I hadn't brought it, because there was a pub with a mighty fine burger (with bacon, peanut butter, and potato chips inside). Having the leftover breakfast flop around in my bag all day wasn't a disaster, but absent a restaurant where I'm going, I'm not doing that again.

The day after, I wrote that in my Day One journal, the hope being that I'll look at my 'day trip' tag and see that again and make the right call the next time.

Location-Based Reminders, As They Are Now, Aren’t Very Useful.

OmniFocus is missing a delay in location-based reminders. As soon as I’m within range (which is always blocks away), I’m “reminded” to do something I’m not yet able to do, since I’m not there yet. The only app I’ve seen get location-based reminders close to right is Checkmark 2 by Snowman. You can set it to remind you a few minutes after you arrive somewhere, which gives you time to settle in. For a while, I had a reminder that would send me the URL to my OmniFocus task list for work 5 minutes after arriving at the office, which was just enough time to get seated and logged into all my systems.

There’s quite a bit of contextual data other than location which is important for location-based reminders. Location-based reminders need to a) be for categories of locations (are you close to a grocery store, that’s open?), b) know your method of travel (are you currently walking or in a vehicle?), c) possibly wait for a trigger, such as a Foursquare Swarm or Facebook checkin. The open-source OwnTracks app can ping an endpoint of your choosing and then you can have the endpoint take action based on your current location. My current use for it is to have it notify me of which Toronto neighbourhood I find myself in.

My research into notes applications that have APIs continues, and that will make possible much more interesting location-based reminders. Because the current crop lack either more contextual awareness or don’t have a built-in delay, they are not as useful as they could be.

Random Run: David Balfour Park to Mt. Pleasant Cemetery

I had wanted to resume my habit of strolling around Toronto on a Sunday morning. Then I recalled that I hadn't gone for a run in a few days, and decided to go for a jog instead. After two years of living here, this city is still new to me, so I took the opportunity to pick a random point and make a randomly generated route that I could run. Vancouver-based app RunGo would provide the turn-by-turn direction this time, as the app I previously relied on seems to be defunct.

This run would take me from Davisville Station, south on Yonge, and then east on St. Clair, where I would veer into David Balfour Park. (I would later learn, through the Yelp review, that the park is popular for cruising.) A rivine bisects the park, so the hills are long and sometimes muddy, and going up the stairs made it impractical to cross railroad tracks. (I had to go under it, not over it in this case.) That took me to Mt. Pleasant Rd., which is not pleasant at all. The entrance to the park is car-friendly, not person-friendly, so I had to dash across an uncontrolled intersection with no crosswalk. I failed to heed my own instructions, that is, to take a look at the route in Google Street View before setting out. The rest of the run, which I mostly walked, took me through TK and over the railway I couldn't cross earlier, using the Summerhill railway Footbridge. I saw a half dozen giant inflatable Santas, and at the end, I walked through the humongous Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. I reflected on how both Vancouver and Toronto have cemeteries in a place called Mt. Pleasant, and both are named Mt. Pleasant Cemetary, and both have wide streets running through them.

The “run” took me an hour and a half, though it was still a great way to see a strange city. You can see the route I created (imported to RunGo) vs. the actual route I took. I played the usual place-based games (Foursquare's Swarm, Fog of World, and even fired up Ingress to see what I should be looking at). Strava crashed a number of times, though I used the GPX from RunGo to upload my activity. It was smart to bring my battery pack, as the number of location apps running in the background took my level down to 16 percent.

Cycling Again

I'm commuting between work by bike again. I signed up in 2016 as a member of the Toronto Bike Share, and renewed again this month. Their call centre operation is weird, with a call center that presents options for English and Spanish. This being the country where English and French are the official languages, I have an idea of what that means. I haven't had a problem with their support when needed, at least.

A full Toronto Bike Share dock near The Esplanade.

Why not buy a bike? So far the thought of maintenance and locking it and worrying about it getting stolen have me using bike share.

I'm using the Transit app to see if bikes are available at docks, and Biko to get rewards. So far I have enough points for a beer tasting. Toronto Bike Share has mechanical docks around the city, meaning that's where you get them and leave them. So far it has been convenient. I'm looking forward to Dropbike, which more closely models Portland's GPS-based system of locking bikes. In Portland you can lock a bike at a dock or, for a small extra fee, any public bike rack. Toronto's system will have special bike racks, discoverable through their app, where one leaves the bikes. So far Dropbike is limited to University of Toronto's (huge) campus, so I don't have a membership yet.


I use Strava to track my rides that last more than a couple of minutes, and Moves quietly logs trips as well. I've only used it to commute and not for a personal trip like a picnic.